The LWVIN has partnered with Common Cause Indiana to create a state wide coalition calling for real redistricting reform in Indiana. The coalition partners include: Hoosier Environmental Council, Citizens Action Coalition, ACLU, NAACP, Indiana Farmers Union, Jobs for Justice and Moral Mondays. The Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting has been appointed and the members include: Chair, Rep. Jerry Torr; Vice Chair, Sen. Brandt Hershman; Sen. Timothy Lanane; Sen. Patricia Miller; Sen. Karen Tallian; Rep. John Bartlett; Rep. Justin Moed; Rep. Kathy Richardson; Lay Members - Ted Boehm; Beverly Gard; Sheila S. Kennedy; Tom Sugar.
Sugar is campaigning for a redistricting plan he calls Lead or Leave, which would set up a nonpartisan redistricting commission to avoid gerrymandering.
The legislative districts are drawn by incumbents in Indiana, so look at those, too. There are 10 Democrats and 40 Republicans in the Indiana Senate. In the Indiana House of Representatives, the representation is only slightly more balanced, with 29 Democrats and 71 Republicans.
So why does this matter? Simply put, Indiana has set up legislative districts that don't reflect the Hoosier mood.
Tom Sugar, a key aide to Evan Bayh in campaigns and in office as Bayh served as governor and senator, is campaigning now for a change aimed at getting more Hoosiers to want to vote.
The change for which Sugar is crusading would eliminate political gerrymandering that leaves very few competitive congressional and state legislative districts in Indiana.
He contends that lack of real choices — not a single competitive congressional race in the state — was a major factor in Indiana’s abysmal voter turnout — 28 percent of the voter eligible population in the 2014 election.
- COMMISSION TO WEIGH REDISTRICTING OPTIONS -
The most important work before the Indiana General Assembly arguably rests with the Interim Study Committee on Redistricting. It soon will consider plans to take congressional and legislative map-drawing duties out of legislators’ hands and give them to a statewide commission.
The result should be districts no longer drawn to benefit incumbents and political parties instead of voters. Elections should become more competitive. Non-voters might finally see a reason to return to the polls. Costly battles over divisive legislation could be avoided if lawmakers aren’t beholden to the most-conservative or most-liberal voices in their parties.
- A BROKEN SYSTEM -
In Indiana, there are nine congressional districts: seven are safe for Republicans and two are safe for Democrats and not one of the districts is regularly competitive.
Sugar founded Lead or Leave, a nonprofit group from which he receives no salary, in order to help redraw the districts and encourage Indiana to create a nonpartisan commission. More information is available at leadorleave.org.
“Democrats are as guilty of this as Republicans are,” he said. “I’m not suggesting this to get more Democrats elected. That’s not my goal.”
Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm has been given a seat on the special committee set to examine gerrymandering, a common political manipulation that he once called toxic.
Each leader in the Statehouse has been allowed to appoint one lay member to the committee. Democratic leaders have tapped Sheila Kennedy and Tom Sugar. Indiana Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has not yet announced his appointment.
“There is no constitutional ban on bullheadedness or stupidity, but there is a constitutional problem in depriving citizens of meaningful votes in legislative elections, and that is what gerrymandering does,” Boehm wrote in 2013 in a column for the Indianapolis Business Journal, a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer.
Tom Sugar... has a great plan that would make Indiana a stronger state.
Sugar’s proposal, dubbed “Lead or Leave”, advocates a non-partisan redistricting commission. The new commission would be freed of politically minded criteria as it draws maps every 10 years — criteria such as where incumbents live and how voters and communities voted in the past. The goal instead would be compact, sensible districts in which cities and counties, as much as possible, are not divided into different districts.
Overnight, our elections would grow more competitive. Republicans would continue to have the upper hand, but the percentage of seats each party would win would likely come closer to matching the percentage of votes they receive.
Indiana celebrated the passage of legislation that created a special study committee on redistricting to explore possibilities for creating a more independent redistricting process in Indiana. This is a great opportunity for citizens yearning for more meaningful elections and more accountable elected officials.
On July 16, we commemorated the birthday of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 created the first gerrymandered district to further the interests of his political party. Former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke and former Sen. Evan Bayh’s top staffer Tom Sugar gave impassioned speeches calling on the redistricting study committee to serve the public interest, and not partisan interests, as they begin their work this summer.
- EXPANDING VOTING HOURS AND FIXING THE ELECTION MAPS ARE A START -
“The outcomes are decided well in advance,” said Sugar. “When you have unopposed candidates running, that removes that choice. That removes the motivation that someone has to get involved in the process.”
Sugar has forged a “No Politics Plan” that is seeking an independent redistricting commission in Indiana. “We have to structurally reform the system,” Sugar said.
In a July 24 letter to State Rep. Jerry Torr and State Sen. Brandt Hershman, who chair the Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, Sugar wrote, “Iowa has consistently produced some of the most competitive elections in the country and the partisan makeup of their legislature has closely mirrored the attitudes and values of Iowans. Politics has no place in it. Under Iowa law, it is illegal to use voter identification, past political performance or even the home addresses of incumbents when designing district boundaries.”
“Now we’re having fun,” said Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana, as she passed out slices of cake adorned with an image of a centuries-old political cartoon.
Other coalition members include Democratic activist Tom Sugar and Republican Paul Helmke, a former Fort Wayne mayor who told the crowd: “Politicians will do whatever it takes to make their next election easier.”
One member of a study committee on redistricting reform says he’d like to see the state consider broader election reform.
Former Gov. Evan Bayh’s chief of staff Tom Sugar founded the nonprofit ”Lead or Leave“ to push legislators to turn redistricting over to an independent commission.
Sugar argues politically-drawn districts force legislators to the extremes because the only real election is the primary.
But he says he’d like to see Indiana go a step further and adopt the so-called “jungle primary,” where the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to November.
- EX-BAYH CHIEF OF STAFF: STATE SHOULD CONSIDER CALIFORNIA'S “JUNGLE PRIMARY” -
One member of a study committee on redistricting reform says he'd like to see the state consider broader election reform.
Former Governor Evan Bayh's chief of staff Tom Sugar founded the nonprofit ”Lead or Leave“ to push legislators to turn redistricting over to an independent commission. He argues politically-drawn districts force legislators to the extremes because the only real election is the primary.
INDIANAPOLIS (WOWO): Advocates of redistricting reform have been emphasizing a call for an independent commission to draw the maps, but the real discussion may be over the rules the mapmakers are given.
Former Democratic Governor Evan Bayh‘s chief of staff Tom Sugar formed a nonprofit group called “Lead or Leave” to push for an independent commission, but he says what‘s more important is to literally take politics out of the process itself.
Tom Sugar speaks at rally Thursday to attempt to end gerrymandering in Indiana.
With the Supreme Court recently allowing redistricting committees to take control of drawing district lines in Arizona, it has paved a pathway for the change in Indiana before the next redistricting in 2021.
In Indiana, a commission would need approval from the General Assembly because the state doesn’t have a ballot initiative process as Arizona does. In addition, the Indiana Constitution requires that the legislature approve district lines for the state House and Senate every 10 years.
Sugar will be one of four non-legislators on a 12-member legislative study committee chaired by Representative Jerry Torr (R-Carmel), which will spend the next two summers reviewing how other states have reformed redistricting. The goal is to settle on recommendations well in advance of the next redistricting in 2021, and to leave enough time to amend Indiana's constitution if legislators conclude that's necessary.
...today's decision by the Supreme Court to uphold citizen-led independent redistricting commissions is a victory for all who want to end rigged elections in America. The case originated with a lawsuit brought by disgruntled politicians in Arizona who didn't like losing their most cherished perk: designing their own destinies. Too bad for them...and hallelujah for democracy!
Now it's time to finish the job. Indiana must not find itself again on the wrong side of history. As a new member of the Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, I'll push our No Politics Plan with all I've got.
[Study committee member Tom Sugar (speaking) with former Fort Wayne mayor Paul Helmke, front row on the left.]
HEA 1003 comes in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections in Indiana, which saw 44 uncontested races for the House of Representatives in the general election—and a corresponding low voter turnout, the lowest in the nation with just over 28 percent of eligible Hoosiers choosing to vote. It is clear that efforts to address gerrymandering are more crucial to Indiana’s political future than ever before.
It gives hope to people who are trying to eliminate gerrymandering in Indiana.
“Today the Supreme Court caught up with America,” said Tom Sugar. “America thinks elections are rigged.”
Sugar is an advocate for taking the politics out of redistricting. He started a nonprofit called ”Lead or Leave“ to show how it can be done here.
The problem he hopes to address is voter apathy. It grows, he believes, from a lack of competitive races.
Friends of Lead or Leave, Common Cause Indiana held a rally on the State House steps today to call for an end to gerrymandering in our state. I was honored to join Paul Helmke, the former mayor of Fort Wayne, as one of the event's featured speakers. Influential political columnist Abdul Shabazz interviewed me at length, and I also spoke on the record with WIBC and WRTV.
I've been around long enough to know that State House rallies are great for sustaining momentum among the already "converted," but it's going to take a whole lot more to turn the tide in the Indiana legislature. Remember we're trying to take from the politicians their most precious perk: their ability to design their own destinies.